Kitsune Nights

Chapter 9: Everwood

April’s evening had passed in a slow haste; time seemed to lag and yet her thoughts were so occupied it seemed nightfall had come unnaturally fast. Her mother had barely fallen asleep by the time she was out the window and on her way to Everwood. She didn’t know why she felt compelled to visit the ruined community, but her mind would not rest until she did.

The raided town was only a bit longer of a jaunt than her beloved belvedere and she jogged most of the way. The ruins were still smoldering when she got there.

It had been at least five years since she’d been to the town, but she’d been fond of it whenever she’d visited. The residents of the community had ensured the streets never lacked for flowers. Old barrels filled with floral arrangements had lined the avenues, now they were ashen heaps. And as for the friendly streets, not a soul had remained in the destruction. April’s eyes blurred with tears and not because of the smoke. Who would do such a thing?

She turned a corner and caught sight of half a dozen corpses. Her hand rose to cover he mouth and she turned away. There were more bodies strewn through the wreckage. Her eyes moved from one to the next, feeling ashamed for turning away from the unburied remains and yet unable to stomach the sight of them. Might she recognize one of them? Would there be the amiable baker who had slipped her a warm cookie one afternoon. Or the merchant who had sold her a broach she had given to her mother? Surely not the doe-eyed café waitress the boys had been enthralled with, she would have been taken by the raiders, would she not? As would have been the seamstress and librarian. She fought not to vomit, closing her eyes and covering her mouth. In that sensory depravity, she noticed the unnatural silence of the night; there was naught a sound except for the occasionally crackle of cinders. Not even the insects had elected to remain in the forsaken Everwood.

Forcing herself to move forward, April passed by mound after mound of corpses. It did not escape her that someone had taken deliberate effort to pile the bodies; these were not the remains of trapped souls who were unable to escape the blaze. They had been tossed into the inferno. She hastened on, trying to ignore the petite forms of children in the piles. She turned a corner to find a flattened block – all the houses mere dust. Without the houses to conceal the vantage, she could see the market square. It was littered with broken and discarded wares – items abandoned in an attempt to hasten flight.

“What are you doing here?” A familiar voice filled the silence.

She froze at first, her heart pounding, but willed herself to find the speaker, turning left to right and then spinning around in her search. Not that she would be able to find this speaker, not unless he revealed himself. When she did not answer his question, the eidolon stepped from his chiaroscuro concealment. “You shouldn’t be here,” he said in a tone that caused a chill to ride up April’s spine.

“What are you doing here?” she questioned, not at all intending the accusation in her tone.

Kaze’s brow lifted as though sceptical that she had dare question him. It took him a moment to respond, but his response was abnormally candid. “Thinking,” he confessed.

April frowned, growing concerned at his unaffected tone. “And why, exactly, is the husk of this community the setting for your meditation?” She snapped, irritated at his lack of dolor.

Having received enough scolding for the day, Kaze decided to depart. He spun on his heel and the soft crunch of gravel marked his departure.

April wouldn’t let him go though, she sprinted after him and seized his hand.

Alas, Kaze’s reflexes were not attuned for passive intrusions. He twisted his arm out of her grip and instinctively knocked her backward, his blade was drawn at her throat before she had landed.

April’s eyes widened as her mind replayed the sudden motions, attempting to recall how she’d descended. The soreness of her backside and the pinch on her throat were real enough, even if she was not certain how she got where she was.

Realizing his error, Kaze withdrew his sword almost immediately and tucked it into his sheath. “You shouldn’t come to such places,” he said in a soft tone.

“You could at least help me back up,” April remarked extending her hand in his direction.

He looked at it as though confused, but eventually reached out to seize hold of it. His assistance was surprisingly gentle, she floated to her feet rather than was tugged to them.

April nodded her appreciation and then hastily dusted her backside and readjusted her garb. When she was finished, her eyes met Kaze’s ruddy brown orbs. “Do you…” she bit her lip, deciding if she should finish her sentence. “Do you know what happened here?”

Kaze blinked and then looked away. Her tone suggested that her question wasn’t a general inquiry. “Such questions are best not answered,” he replied.

“So, you do,” April said softly. “They say the raiders who did this find it sporting. That man, the one you hid me from, he used the same words. Was he one of them? The raiders, I mean?”

“He’s more heinous.”

“Then, does that make you… one of them?” April hadn’t wanted to ask it. Even if he denied it, she probably shouldn’t believe him. As she’d observed before, he wasn’t just a common swordsman. He was no knight sent from the capital or a tavern dwelling mercenary. Whatever or whoever Kaze was, he had the sort of fabled abilities attributed to the illusive raiders.

“No,” Kaze replied without hesitation. Despite herself, April was willing to believe him. But Kaze was not done speaking, “I am worse. And you should not come to such places.”

“Wait,” April interjected, fearing he would leave again; she had learned though, not to seize him. “Please, tell me what we should do to stop this from happening again. What do they want?”

“You should flee,” Kaze replied darkly. “There is no stopping them.”

“The women already have,” April assured him.

Her calm demeanor at such an announcement was perturbing. “Why have you not gone with them?” Kaze asked, more earnestly than he had anticipated he was capable of being.

“I can’t,” April explained, “my mother would never survive the journey and I can’t leave her.”

The eidolon frowned, not following he logic. “You must flee.”

“I can’t. She’s my mother. I can’t abandon her.”

He found himself irked by her blindness, but Kaze was unused to holding such pervasive emotions so he just grunted and decided it was no concern of his.

April, however, fretted that his sudden emotionlessness meant his desire to depart had been reignited. She spoke the first words that came to mind, hoping to forestall his exit, “Would you teach me – how to defend myself, that is. Since I cannot leave and my mother has none but myself to protect her.”

For the first time, a smirk threatened to break Kaze’s hard expression. He glanced at her under-nourished figure and wan pallor, “You wish to fight?”

As glad as she was to see a change in his visage, the stout lass felt more than a little scorn at being so underestimated. “Yes, me.” She stomped her foot down.

Kaze fluttered the fingers of his left hand, drawing her attention. He gestured to his sheath on his right hip and then he made a show of tucking his weapon bearing arm behind his back. Next, he held upright his right arm and displayed the smallest finger.  He snaked the right arm forward and extended the little finger. Using the point of that small digit he prodded April’s shoulder, forcing her to retreat a step.

She dug her heels into the ground and he intensified the force of his thrust. Yet, despite her resistance she was forced to surrender further ground.

“You cannot even withstand the attack of my smallest finger; how shall you battle a blade?” he remarked with an amused tone.

April gritted her teeth, feeling his nail stab into the soft part of her shoulder. She seized his wrist and attempted to relieve the pressure of his assault. “I can’t know that unless someone teaches me,” she remarked.

Her attempts to ward him off found no success and since she lacked his strength she needed another approach. She relinquished her right arm and pivoted so her left shoulder, where he drove his assaulting finger into, was further from him. Her right hand, now nearer to his body shot forward and she countered his attack with her own – a cold finger into the soft spot under his arm.

Holding to his original demonstration, the left arm remained tucked behind him. But the tickling sensation was so wholly unfamiliar that he jerked his right arm back to clamp it firmly against his side. April wasn’t about to concede yet either. She flicked both wrists to his waist and drove a finger into both sides there.

“Oy!” he sliced his right arm down, breaking her contact. She charged forward both hands aiming a second assault. Kaze leapt back and extended a flat palm like a shield to her, it zipped back and forth daring her to try another attack.

“Ah-ha!” April cried out triumphantly. “See,” she gestured to his feet and the ground he’d traversed across.

Kaze opened his mouth to argue, but April launched herself forward during his distraction. His palm slapped aside her furious motions.

April couldn’t help but chuckle at the ludicrous nature of the battle as she moved her arms up and down, back and forth.

Blocking both hands with an upward chop, Kaze aimed an attack himself. He didn’t hold back as he had before and it sent April stumbling back. Her arms fluttered forward, seizing his garments and bringing him tumbling alongside her. He rolled away and was back on his feet with barely a moment’s hesitation, but April remained on the ground giggling.

“I brought you down with me,” she finally managed to say between chuckles. “Does that not count for something?”

Kaze allowed a few notes of laughter to escape his lips and extended a hand towards April.

“Bravely fought,” he conceded. “Of the dozens to whom I have administered that test to, you are the first to use such tactics.”

She clapped her hands in excitement. “Does that mean you’ll train me?”

Kaze’s brow raised in incredulity.

“You will, won’t you?” April persisted.

“Perhaps,” Kaze conceded. “If we meet again.”

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© Mara Jule